Garden hibernation

Many emotions are in synch with the natural course of the gardening season, as well as the seasons of life.  This mimics the way that Shiatsu or Eastern Philosophy regards the seasons: Spring is a time of explosive energy, wind, even a type of anger that is related to months of stored potential energy just bursting to be let out.  Summer indicates joy, heat, beauty, and love.  Autumn begins a decline, rotting smells, and worry.  Winter, though most of us in the Northeast are not fans, has its own purpose: turning inward and restoring, but there is also a fear – our ancestors had a lot of worry and fretting about whether they would have enough food and shelter to survive the winter!

Over the years, I have learned that these cycles are natural and repetitive, and therefore I have grown to find some comfort in that rhythm.  However, this was not always the case!  I am typically a person that gets very “attached” to things, especially happy things like flowers and vegetables grown with care, labor, and love.  The first year that I grew a garden, I got so depressed at the oncoming death of plants, that I decided I would “save” a basil plant by digging it up, putting it into a pot, and bringing it inside. (Heaven forbid I allow things to run their  cycle of life!)  I bet you can imagine how that attempt worked out in the end.  The basil was basically sad and dying before I even brought it in, and messing with its root structure made it even less happy.  But it was a lesson.  And now, after many years, I have learned that I cannot control the seasons…therefore it is futile to fight the inevitable.  I do, however, like to extend the growing season as long as possible.

Here is how:

1. Watch the weather forecast for frost and freeze warnings and for the overnight lowest temperature.  If there is a risk for anything less that 32 degrees, cover any plants that you wish to save.  You can use old sheets, light tarps, or plastic.  Also, if the temp is not too severely low, you can coat with a mist of water and that actually prevents frost from attaching.  Once things warm up in the morning, remove the covers and let the sun shine.  Don’t forget to tamp them down with something if there is a lot of wind.

2. Construct domes over row crops – low lying ones like this:

It will provide a bit of a greenhouse effect – warming when the sun shines.  The link for this one actually says it works down to 6 degrees!

3. Learn what is hardy and what is wimpy!  Basil if very fragile, and is one of the first herbs to blacken and shrivel in the cold.  Hardy herbs are: sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme – all of these I have literally picked in November and December (depending on the temps).  Hardy vegetables include: Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Collard Greens, Carrots, Parsnips, Kale.  Most of these vegetables actually improve in taste after the first frost, as it promotes sweetness.  Isn’t it wonderful that there is a living plant that actually sweetens in the freezing temps>??  This knowledge will not prevent winter of course, however it can facilitate intelligent harvesting.  Put your initial efforts toward gathering produce that will not make it in colder temps.  Then enjoy the hardier items when the colder temps settle in – your appetite will crave them more that time of year anyway!


Other than warding off the cold – there is still the “closing up” garden tasks to accomplish!  As much as one can do, prior to the earth becoming too hard and frozen to work with:

1. Remove dead debris and weeds – anything that is left will establish roots and come back that much stronger and tougher to remove in the spring.

2. Turn over the dirt with a shovel or pitchfork – aerating the soil is important.  Augmenting with compost or natural fertilizer is great if you can get your hands on some of that.

3. Cut back perennials.  Mulch or protect any that need some extra assistance to make it through winter.

4. Remove any tarps, plastic weed control, and any other potential habitat for pests and insects to over-winter.  This will hopefully prevent pests from living dormant waiting for you to plant them some delicious new food next year.

Take a moment to give thanks for what gifts the garden has given you this season.  Whether you had too much or not enough of certain desirables, either way the garden gave of itself.  There has been anticipation, joy, labor, frustration, and at times sadness.  But in the end, the process of growing a garden encourages growth – in YOU!